Wednesday, August 12, 2015
OK, admittedly, this is a bit of a rant, but every time I leave the state for a while and come back, I'm reminded all over again of Texas' particular brand of driving. Which is, in a word, fast!
Not that Texas is unique in having it's own 'style' of driving, You'll find different styles all over this country. But fortunately for those of us taking regular road trips, traffic laws in the USA are comfortably similar across all the states.
And that's good because things could be worse!!
Those of you doing cross-country trips before the 70's might remember the right-turn-on-red confusion. Some states had it, some didn't. If you weren't sure you had two choices; make the turn and pucker-up while you waited to get pulled over, or sit there and have the guy behind get all pissy about you wasting a few seconds of his precious time while he made a spectacle of you by laying on the horn. It wasn't until the fuel shortages of the 70's that the feds stepped in and pushed the have-nots to normalize things.
And just imagine if the US were like Austria from the Napoleonic invasion in the early 1800's up to 1938 when things were finally rectified! During that 100+ year period, as you crossed from one part of the country to another, roughly equivalent to crossing our county lines, you had to change which side of the road you drove on! OK, initially it was horse to horse conflict which was slow motion by current standards, but by the early 1900's speeds started to pick up and finding yourself on the wrong side of the road had more serious consequences!
Oh, and along those lines, just be glad you weren't in Sweden September 3rd 1967!! At midnight, in one fell swoop, the entire country switched from driving on the left to driving on the right! Not, I'm sure, without a few hiccups and some extreme pucker factors.
But, even though things are largely uniform in this country, visa-vi driving legally, there are some noticeable differences between states.
Some of these differences are mandated by law.
For instance, New Hampshire thinks (Correctly in my humble, but always right, opinion.) that as an adult I have the right to make my own decision about wearing or not wearing a seat-belt. I would never dream of not wearing a seat-belt but I certainly object to my government forcing me to do so!
On the other end of the spectrum, New Jersey and Oregon think I'm just too stupid to pump my own gas and instead force me to let disposable minimum wage flunkies do it for me.
Exposure to toxic fumes is often cited as one of the arguments for this law so, extending that logic, if it's too dangerous for us normal citizens to pump gas and breathe fumes once or twice a week they must consider the people hired do it a hundred or so times a day as disposable. From that we can assume that anyone with even a few working brain cells would be reluctant to take such a job; and what does that say about the person cavalierly pumping that explosive concoction into the tank under my butt???
Another argument used by those too lazy to get their butts out of the seat is that it's safer because you can stay in your car where thugs can't get to you, but I think there's a slight flaw in that logic too. Sure, I stay in my car, in fact the law says I must, but because of that I have to let some stranger, perhaps not the kind of person I would be comfortable being around otherwise, (See the previous bit about toxic fumes!) walk right up to where I'm sitting helplessly behind my open window. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that how carjackings start??
And by the way, while we're on (OK not 'we' but just 'me'.) differences in laws between states, are all you mega 102" wide RV owners aware that in 12 states plus DC you are legal only on federal highways and once you stray a certain distance from them, 10 miles in Louisiana but only 1 mile in Maryland, you are illegal unless you have a permit??
No, I didn't think so. Not something the RV salesperson was likely to point out was it?
But some of the differences in driving style from state to state can be traced back to geographic or cultural/social issues.
For instance, generally speaking, speed limits are higher in the less populated western states than they are in the highly populated eastern ones. (Yeah, I know, that was an easy one.)
And in my own experience, though I don't really know why, the drivers of Minnesota and New Mexico are much more courteous than those of Massachusetts and Louisiana. (According to Cars.com, Idaho is officially ranked least courteous and North Dakota most courteous.)
On an even smaller scale:
In San Francisco you can get a ticket for not turning your wheels into the curb after parallel parking. This is so when your parking brake fails the car rolls up on the sidewalk and flattens a pedestrian or two rather than damaging the car parked downhill. Not something most of us would think about.
And is it just me or have you noticed that as you drive from rural to urban areas, the closer to the city you get the more frantic the driving becomes. As the official speed limit drops in anticipation of congestion, the actual speed driven increases, as does the sharpness and frequency of lane changes, along with a corresponding reduction in following distance and suspension of common sense.
I can only assume this is because we all know that that one extra car length we gain through aggressive driving is extremely important when in the city. Never mind that the only thing we really gain is arriving at the stop-and-go traffic jam a half second sooner than the next guy. (As we bury Duddly McLeadfoot this fine day, try not to think too badly of him. Sure, he killed himself and three innocents, but he did it while trying to get there ahead of the other guy, so that makes it alright. . .)
In Wichita drivers use their horn; a lot! Most are not angry, flip-off, slam-fist-on-horn honks, but rather just little toots; hello, or hey-I'm-here toots if you will; but they still make the uninitiated visitor all paranoid and jumpy. At least that's what they do me.
If you're a Dallas-ite apparently you're taught that taking an exit by starting from the left lane and just shooting on across all traffic lanes is a common and acceptable driving strategy. (So many do it I figure it must be on the written test somewhere.) But it's a strategy that can scare the daylights out of the unwary! (I make sure I have extra underwear along when going through Dallas.)
And that is my segue into Driving Texas! Not a very good one I admit, but it got me here. . .
Texas, the land of the ridiculous, perhaps even asinine, speed limit, where the least of the issue is the 80 and even 85 MPH speed limits we have on some of our expressways. Because this is also the land where 75 MPH is common on highways (As in 4 lane, and once in a while even 2 lane.) and 55 is - well - the only place you're likely to see the old familiar double-nickle is when actually driving through a town! For several years we had a two-lane state road 20 miles south of us; a road lined with frequent driveways, farm gates and gravel pits; yet it had a posted speed limit of 75!
But that doesn't really matter anyway since here in Texas speed limits are barely considered a suggestion. After all, we're talking about the state that ranks dead last in the nation in severity of speeding fines as well as frequency of any actual speed enforcement. It shows too. In 2014, here in Texas we killed 3534 people on our roads. Adjusted for miles driven, that's about twice the rate of Illinois which ranks 1st in fines and enforcement. (I know, I know, I too hate to admit that Illinois ranks first in anything except corruption and former public officials residing in prison, but facts are facts.)
But never mind the stats, because as a card-carrying Texan it's pretty much your patriotic duty to drive as fast as you want as often as you want, even if that means passing against the double yellow line uphill on a blind curve, or even on the shoulder if necessary. (Believe me, it happens!)
If, for some reason, you can't get around someone driving slower than you want to go, like perhaps you have some remaining vestige of self preservation, duty demands that you then push that slower vehicle as hard as possible until such time as you can get by them. You are to do this in the hopes that they might go just a little bit faster while you, very impatiently, wait for your chance to make a death-defying, gas-sucking, piston-scoring lunge around them; because we all know that 30 seconds you're loosing is so friggin' important!! Never mind that in the next town 90% of the time that same car will be waiting right behind you at the stop light.
Oh, and by the way, here in Texas it's not considered tailgating until you've hooked bumpers, so don't freak out if you look in the rearview and see nothing but hood ornament.
Now, to put things into perspective, not all Texans buy into this driving style, just enough that it's noticeable. Despite the speed limits out there, a surprising number of casual drivers, and I dare say a whole lot of professional drivers, ease their way across even the empty miles of West Texas at a safe, sedate 65 MPH. (I know because they don't pass me and I don't pass them.) And Texans also drove a quarter billion, that's with a b, miles in 2014 so that's - let's see - 25 goes into 35, carry the 10, add a zero - oh hell! No matter which way you do the math that's lots and lots, and lots, of trouble free miles.
But I do wish I couldn't see the gleam in the eye of that chrome bulldog in my mirror!!